The airstrikes along the Israeli-Egyptian border came after several Egyptian military checkpoints in the region were attacked overnight and three days after unknown gunmen attacked Egyptian border guards. The incidents have left Egypt lurching to contain the Sinai's growing lawlessness, which has been fostered by the upheaval of post-revolution Egypt and poses an important challenge for the country's new leadership.It's the first airstrikes carried out by Egypt on Sinai since 1973. Such airstrikes need to be coordinated with Israel as part of the Israel-Egypt peace accord (Camp David). That means that Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas will claim that the Egyptian government is colluding with Israel.
An unnamed Egyptian senior military official told Agence France-Presse that “20 terrorists were killed” in the village of Tumah, near the Gaza border, by Apache helicopter strikes. The military source said the operation was ongoing and other airstrikes have been reported in neighboring villages.
Witnesses in Sheikh Zouaid, about 10 km (six miles) from Gaza, said they saw two military jets and heard sounds of explosions. Other witnesses in a nearby area said they saw three cars hit.Sinai has quickly fallen into a lawless region that the Egyptian government can barely control. That bodes poorly for Egypt, which needs tourists to feel safe across the country in order to reap the economic benefits. Terrorists have continued to infiltrate into Sinai from Gaza, despite a security cordon by Egyptian forces. Smuggling continues to do tremendous business on both sides of the Gaza-Egypt border.
The strikes follow clashes between armed men and security forces at several security checkpoints in the Sinai region.
Armed men opened fire on several checkpoints in Arish and in the nearby town of Rafah on the border with Israel, according to a Reuters reporter and state media.
A Reuters reporter said one policeman and one resident had been confirmed wounded in these attacks.
Lawlessness in the rugged desert region bordering Israel has spread since the fall of autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak in an uprising 18 months ago and the election of an Islamist successor whose commitment to security cooperation with the Jewish state has yet to be tested.
Yet, the airstrikes show that the Egyptian government is willing to work with Israel on security arrangements and indicates that the Egyptians are more than willing to use force - though it appears that they're willing to do so only when their own security forces are killed. They have a long way to go on securing the Gaza border and the Hamas and other Islamic terror group agitators.